Charles Marius Barbeau’s Ethnography And The Canadian Folklore

4086 words - 16 pages

Charles Marius Barbeau’s Ethnography and the Canadian Folklore

Born on 5 March 1883, in Sainte-Marie-de-Bauce, Charles Marius Barbeau is widely seen as the first Canadian educated anthropologist. He graduated from Université Laval in Québec, from his studies of law, in 1907; he never practised law. Upon graduating, Marius was awarded – as the first French-Canadian recipient – the Cecil Rhodes scholarship which allowed him to study at Oxford University where he was introduced to the emerging field of Anthropology. « Je [voulais] savoir comment l’homme a été créé » he later explained to Marcel Rioux. (Benoît 1959a) During his stay in Europe, Marius also attended classes at the Sorbonne’s École des Hautes Études and at the École d’anthropologie in Paris. In June 1910, he received a Bachelor of Science degree, from Oxford, for his thesis on The Totemic System of the Northwestern Indian Tribes of North America. Back in Canada, he took the position of Assistant Ethnologist for Edward Sapir at the Anthropological division of the Geological Survey of Canada at the Victoria Memorial Museum in Ottawa (one of the ancestors of today’s – since 1986 – Canadian Museum of Civilization). Then Marius began his life long career of collecting ethnographic and folkloric data on the cultures of aboriginal North-Americans and French creoles of Canada…

Theoretical Bases

« Pour Barbeau, les manifestations du folklore sont un peu comme des petits fruits sauvages. Le folkloriste est un cueilleur. […] Si l’on ne cueille pas les fruits sauvages, eh bien ils se perdront pour toujours. […] Un jour, la forêt aura envahi le terrain et tout effacé. Le modeste champ ne sera plus là. Il sera oublié. » (Gauthier 2001: 38)

Marius Barbeau’s theoretical approach seems to have been influenced by both his studies in England and France, and his work with North-American anthropologists. But his sometimes contradicting statements require a more precise study, so we will simply present his main positions, and state some of the opposing points without thoroughly analysing them.

Marcel Mauss – whose classes Barbeau attended – concludes in a 1902 document on ethnographic method: « En somme, rester cantonnés sur le terrain des faits religieux et sociaux, ne rechercher que les causes immédiatement déterminantes, renoncer à des théories générales qui sont peu instructives ou qui n'expliquent que la possibilité des faits, ce sont là plutôt des actes de prudence méthodique que des négations scientifiques. » (Mauss 1902) In the same line of thought, Franz Boas – the famous American anthropologist, also a contemporary of Barbeau – stresses the need to focus on collecting data. He even criticizes social and anthropological theory makers. (See Boas 1920) Barbeau was, at the beginning of his career, much influenced by these ideas. He collected data on many aboriginal societies – mainly of the Northwest Coast, of Québec and of the North of the USA – and later, at the suggestion of...

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